Argentina dazzle South Korea, France face exit

JOHANNESBURG, June 17, 2010 (AFP) - Two former World Cup winners enjoyed contrasting fortunes on Thursday when Argentina thrashed South Korea but France were left on the brink of a first-round exit after a 2-0 defeat to Mexico.

The World Cup burst into life as Argentina striker Gonzalo Higuain scored the first hat-trick of the tournament as the 1978 and 1986 champions beat the Koreans 4-1 with a dazzling display at Johannesburg's Soccer City.

The victory leaves Argentina virtually certain of qualification for the last 16 from Group B.

Argentina supporters celebrate their team's victory with a replica of the World Cup trophy after the football match between Argentina and South Korea on June 17, 2010. AFP

But a wretched France never looked likely to beat Mexico in Polokwane and slumped to defeat after livewire substitute Javier Hernandez scored in the 64th minute and veteran Mexican striker Cuauhtemoc Blanco converted a penalty with 11 minutes left.

The result means Uruguay and Mexico only need to draw in their final Group A game on Tuesday to qualify for the next stage and send France crashing out.

The French, who won on home soil in 1998 and were runners-up four years ago in Germany, have been beset by problems since arriving in South Africa.

The French sports minister criticised the opulence of their training camp and unpopular coach Raymond Domenech and his players have reportedly been at loggerheads.

After seeing his team rarely threaten in a match they had to win after a goalless draw with Uruguay in their opening match, Domenech said: "I don't have the words, it's a real disappointment for all of the people and for those who believed in us.

"We need a miracle now. We have to be strong and at least play for our honour. At least we must show something in the last match."

Argentina coach Diego Maradona was in bullish mood after his side produced the best performance of the tournament so far to outclass South Korea.

A Park Chu-young own goal put Argentina on the way to victory and Higuain scored his first goal before Lee Chung-yong pegged the Argentines back on the stroke of half-time before Higuain scored twice after the break.

Maradona said the Koreans were never in contention.

"Let me tell you, South Korea was never capable of controlling us, they never dominated any part of the match.

"We were never worried about them and they never upset us."

The little Argentine who is one of the world's all-time great players but was largely unproven as a coach coming into the tournament, said his side were starting to gel.

"We want to go on playing this way, we are on the right path, but we don't want to think yet about the teams we could face in the next round," Maradona said.

Argentina's last Group B opponents are Greece, who kept their hopes alive by beating Nigeria 2-1 in Bloemfontein to gain their country's first ever points at a World Cup finals.

The ill-disciplined Nigerians were undermined by the dismissal of Sani Keita for a rash kick at Greece's Vasileios Torosidis.

Dimitrios Salpingidis and Torosidis scored Greece's goals after Kalu Uche had netted first for the west Africans.

Greece coach Otto Rehhagel admitted his side faced a huge task against Maradona's men on Tuesday.

"Argentina are a world-class team. They will clearly be better than us and we have got to try and see how to cope with them," he said.

England will seek to get their World Cup challenge back on the rails when they face Algeria in Cape Town on Friday - and coach Fabio Capello hinted he was considering giving gaffe-prone goalkeeper Robert Green another chance.

Green's blunder handed the United States a draw in England's first match, but Capello said on the eve of the Algeria clash: "Every player that makes a mistake deserves a second chance.

"I judge a player on his quality and not on his mistakes."

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